Coronation of Thai King Vajiralongkorn set for May

BANGKOK (AFP) – An elaborate three-day coronation ceremony for Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn will be held in early May, more than two and half years after the death of his revered father Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The 66-year-old ascended the throne following his father’s death in October 2016, which ended a tumultuous seven-decade reign over the Southeast Asian kingdom marked by coups and rounds of violent street protests.

Maha Vajiralongkorn, formally known as Rama X of the Chakri dynasty, has since dramatically reorganised palace affairs.

He has bolstered his own security detail and granted himself personal stewardship of the crown’s multi-billion dollar assets, which include swathes of prime real estate and major investments in banks and companies.

Thailand’s monarchy – one of the world’s richest – is shielded from criticism by a harsh royal defamation law punishing any transgressors with up to 15 years per charge.

It is also butressed by the conservative, ultra-royalist army which has ruled Thailand since seizing power in 2014, banning protests and political rallies, but which has pledged to restore elections early this year.

In a televised announcement, the Royal Household Bureau said the coronation will take place between May 4-6.

Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn. – AP

“It’s a suitable time to hold the coronation in accordance to the tradition and for national celebration and joy of the people,” the bureau said.

The “coronation ceremony” will be held on May 4 with an audience granted to “the royal family, privy councillors and Cabinet members,” it explained.

The following day a ceremony will “bestow the royal name” according to traditions governing the monarchy, then on May 6 the King will hold a “grand audience” with members of the public and diplomats.

This year is poised to be pivotal for Thailand. The country is also set to hold elections, with the junta teasing the date of Febuary 24.

If polls are held then, it would be just shy of five years since the junta – led by Army Chief turned Premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha – seized power from the elected civilian government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The junta, which portrays itself as the defender of the monarchy, says it toppled her government to end corruption under successive civilian administrations.

Its critics say it acted only to push out the Shinawatra clan, led by Yingluck’s older brother, the billionaire and ex-premier Thaksin, and uproot their political networks.